Flashback Post; flying into Rabaul to spend two weeks in Kuradui at the Phebe Parkinson Study Centre, hosted by Kuradui resident and the school's founder, Sila Watangia.
I collect my bags at Tokua airport, and I wonder how I am going to recognise my host, or how she will recognise me. I had meant to send a photo before I left, but forgot.
I see two women standing together watching the doors. They look at me, I look at them and I wonder if this is my host Sila. I can’t see anyone else who fits her profile so I continue to walk in her direction, and she says to me…, “Are you Kalo”? I nod and say yes, and she replies, “Welcome home”.
I greet Sila and her niece Linda and we laugh at how we both wondered how we would recognise one another.
On the drive home the sky is infused with bright pinks and purple tones. The car swerves to miss the potholes in the road that I am told have become worse with a lot of heavy rain recently. As we pass through Kokopo town I recognise something. It is the Catholic Church on top of the hill where we had the service for Phoebe’s reburial in 2004. As I think of that day I remember my Grandpa and how he carried her small coffin from the church, and of the story he told us later of feeling like he was touched on the shoulder by his Grandmother’s spirit – and as he turned - he was in her presence, and she shared a message with him.
We arrive at Kuradui just as the sun is setting. It is a steep and bumpy climb up the hill in the four-wheel drive, the dirt road is uneven, eroded away by rain. Up and down we go until we pull into the driveway of Sila’s family home and the place where I will spend the next two weeks. More family members and a bunch of kids greet me. We all shake hands and exchange names, but as soon as I learn a new name, the one before it already forgotten. Oh well, I have two weeks to get it right.
Dinner is served almost immediately, and I feel bad because I’m sure they’ve all waited for me and my delayed flight before starting the evening meal. A mumu was prepared the night before and a large serving of sweet little bananas and taro have been cooking away soaked in fresh coconut milk and wrapped up in banana leaves under the ground. Chicken, rice and veggies are also served and it’s a much-welcomed meal after eating dried biscuits and packaged food since departing Australia early that morning.
I dish out some lollies and chocolates before heading for the shower – which I find out is a big bucket of cold water and a small plastic container I use to splash myself down with. Sila apologises about the bucket and not having hot water – but I assure her that this isn’t the first time I’ve had a bucket shower and been without heated water… many of the homes I’ve visited in Tonga have been much the same.
After my wash I spend a short time talking about the school which Sila has set up with her daughter, but I am fading quickly after a long day of travelling, so I excuse myself and head straight to the comfort of my bed and bunker down for a good night’s sleep.